Are you struggling with lower back and leg pain? We understand how uncomfortable and frustrating this can be, and whether it has just started or has been bubbling away for a while, you may be experiencing sciatica. It can make daily activities that we all take for granted, such as getting out of bed or even putting socks on in the morning go from a simple task to a laborious one. If you are struggling, you are certainly not alone. It is estimated that 40% of the population will experience sciatica at some point in their life1, and it is something that we see frequently as a Chiropractor. But you will be pleased to learn that there are things that can be done to help, so in this blog we will share more about what sciatica is, the symptoms it can cause, and things you can do to help. What is sciatica? Did you know that your sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body? In the lower part of your spine, the nerves join to form the left and right sciatic nerve which travel from the back of your pelvis, buttocks, and down the back of both legs. When it reaches just below your knee, the nerve branches into other nerves, which travel along the back of your legs and into your foot. If there is compression or irritation to the sciatic nerve it can result in those frustrating symptoms which we share more about next. What does sciatica feel like and why does it start? Depending on the cause of sciatica will depend on the type of symptoms, and everyone’s experience will differ. For one person the symptoms can be manageable, and for others it can be debilitating, stopping them from getting on with everyday life. Typically it can cause pain, numbness, or tingling which starts in the lower back and radiates into the glute, back of the leg and may go into the calf or foot. It can range from a dull ache to a severe shooting, stabbing, or burning sensation, which some describe as if they are being stabbed by a hot poker, and it can cause weakness too. Our aim as a Chiropractor is always to get to the root cause of the problem and it is important to do this with sciatica. Do you remember sciatica was caused due to irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve? Well, there are a few things that can cause this, including injury to the disc that sits between the bones of your spine, there may be degenerative changes causing bone spurs that can encroach on the nerve, or it could be due to a muscle in your glute called the piriformis, which is not formally sciatica but can create similar symptoms. There are other causes too, which is why it is important to get a detailed assessment. Sciatica can be triggered by certain activities, such as living a sedentary lifestyle, repetitive heavy lifting and twisting, weight gain, or even wearing tight clothing or carrying a wallet in the back pocket, which can put pressure on the lower back and glute. So, let’s delve into what you can do. If you are currently struggling with sciatica, here are 5 steps you can take to help yourself: 1. Keep mobile We know moving around when you are in pain is probably the last thing you feel like doing, but movement is key to help with your healing, and regular exercise in general is great for prevention. If you are struggling with pain, try starting with a few minutes walk and then build up the frequency and length over time. As part of keeping mobile, some people find a technique called ‘Nerve Flossing’ helpful, which can help to reduce the irritation of the nerve and increase the range of movement2. To do this, start seated in a supportive chair with both feet on the floor, knees at 90 degrees. Slowly straighten the affected leg and gently move your head backwards at the same time. You may feel a slight stretch down the back of your leg. Return to your original position and repeat 2 to 3 times a day. It is important to listen to your body and not push through pain. If it is painful, please stop and seek guidance, which moves us nicely onto the next point. 2. Seek help As we’ve highlighted already, it is important to get to the root cause of the issue and see someone who specialises in the spine and nerves, to not only help you in the short term, but to prevent the issue recurring, and that’s where chiropractic care comes in. Through specific chiropractic adjustments and tailored guidance, chiropractic has shown to be effective in helping with sciatica and is something we can support you with. 3. Adapt your sleeping position We understand it is not easy getting to sleep when in pain, so here are a couple of things you can try to make it more comfortable. Whilst laying on your back, place a pillow beneath your knees which will help to reduce the tension from your lower back. Alternatively try sleeping on your side and place a firm but small pillow between your knees. 4. Avoid certain movements To help the healing process we would recommend avoiding heavy lifting, bending, twisting and repetitive movements. High impact exercise can also make the situation worse, so adapt what you are doing if you can, or ask for help, we promise it will serve you in the long run. When you are moving around, try to engage your stomach muscles which will help to protect your lower back. 5. Ice and heat Some people find applying warmth to their lower back is helpful and can create a soothing effect. A hot water bottle or wheat bag is useful for this, and applying it for 10 to 20 minutes at a time can be effective. Alternatively, some find alternating between warmth and cool is beneficial, such as using a bag of peas wrapped in a tea towel for 10 minutes then applying warmth following. Be sure to listen to your body and see what is right for you. Feel free to give these steps a go and see how they help. If your symptoms persist, become worse, or are causing concern then please don’t suffer in silence. As a health care provider we take sciatica seriously and would encourage you to do the same. It is always best to get professional help to understand what is causing the symptoms and help you get on the right path. If we can be of any help, please get in touch. References: 1. Harvard Health Publishing. (2016). Sciatica. All of the nerve. Retrieved from Harvard Medical School: https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/sciatica-of-all-the-nerve 2. Indian Journal of Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy. (2017). Effectiveness of Nerve Flossing Technique in Chronic Lumbar Radiculopathy. Accessed from Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311665261_Effectiveness_of_Nerve_Flossing_Technique_in_Chronic_Lumbar_Radiculopathy The content of this blog is for educational purposes and is not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.
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